Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Methodology: How Guests at Tortuga Lodge Can Help Local Kids Learn English in a Way that is Beneficial to Both the Kids and The Guests.

For years I have been trying to solve the puzzle of how to have guests who are only spending two or three days at our Lodges effectively help local kids learn English.

I quickly found out that the methodology for teaching was simple enough to learn in a few minutes, but what has had me stymied has been how to keep track of the kids’ progress with a different teacher every couple of days.  If the guests did not have a way of knowing how much English the kids knew, the effort was bound to fail.  If the guests knew what the kids knew, it seemed to me that there would be a good chance of success.

So I set out to find a methodology.  I talked to a couple of owners of language schools; they saw me as competition.

I found and called a university professor who was a recognized expert in English as a second language  (ESL).  He told me that ESL teachers should have a masters degree (Otherwise the kids would get the pronunciation wrong.)  He offered to put me in touch with a couple of his PhD. candidates.

In March I was thinking of putting the problem to all of you in the blog, when talking to a guest about something completely unrelated, she mentioned that she was experienced at teaching ESL. I told her my problem. She answered with one word, “Easy!”

She did not know what she was getting herself into. She’s been working on the methodology ever since and will be coming to the lodge for two weeks in the beginning of July to put it into practice.

Her name is Kathleen Arnett.  Here is her explanation on how it is going to work:

The guests at the lodge will help kids learn English the same way parents help their children learn new words, verbs, short phrases and tenses:  The children points/asks; the guests responds. Parents do not need special training to help their kids learn language, and the guests won’t need a Master’s  in English to help the local kids learn English.

To keep track of the kids’ progress I am preparing a simple scheme that  will follow typical  language development in children.

For example Level 1 might correspond to children  at  the age of 18 months who have the following:

  • Vocabulary of  20 words.
  • Speaks in nouns.
  • Repeats words back to parent,
  • Repeats phrases.
  • Is able to follow simple commands.
  • Is able to use two prepositions.
  • Combines words into 2 word sentences.
  • 30% of their speech is intelligible, except to mama who is pretty sure she understands everything.

Level 2 might correspond to  children  at  the age of 24 months:

  • 66% to 80% of their speech is intelligible.
  • They have a vocabulary of 150-300 words.
  • They can use two pronouns correctly, (“my” and “mine”).
  • They may well  responds to the “show me the” command.
  • Rhythm and fluency are often poor.
  • Volume and pitch of voice is not yet well-controlled.

Improvement in this  last  area would be one of the indicators that the child has moved to the next level.

Each child will have their own folder that will contain a chart with an explanation of the levels  and space for each  teachers to record progress in each lesson. The folder will also have suggestions and materials for activities appropriate for child’s level at  the time.

I am very excited about working with the guests at the Lodge helping these kids with communication skills that will benefit them for their lifetime.

Kathleen will be at the Lodge from July 6-22.  We have written to guests who are already booked at that time offering them the chance to reserve a slot.  The response has been quite encouraging.

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4 Comments and 2 Replies

  • At May 18, 2010
    8:43:40 am
    Meena said:

    Dear Michael , That is a great idea . As I had suggested dearlier , some kind of organised place to register , where one could have the folders of students , would make it much more productive , since the ongoing volunteers could pick up from the previous ones to continue the lessons .
    Good luck , Meena

    • At May 18, 2010
      6:51:53 am
      Shannon Borrego said:

      Is there a plan to make this exercise fun for the children? If they see it as a game I think the attendance rate will remain strong; however, if it becomes tedious the kids will quickly lose interest.
      Also, are you planning to try to catch these children under the age of 3 to optimize their ability to learn a second language or were you just showing us those 2 models as samples of a more extensive target group? It seems to me that I read somewhere that a child learns language in one part of the brain up until a certain point and then switches to another area around age 10? (not sure of that age–you all probably know better than I). My husband did not learn English until he and I were married (he’s from Mexico). Even after living in the U.S. for 30 years he speaks with a very heavy accent.

      • At May 18, 2010
        8:40:23 pm
        Michael Kaye replied
        to Shannon Borrego:

        These are very good points, Shannon. I am planning to respond to them in next Monday’s post.

      • At May 17, 2010
        2:29:54 pm
        Jennifer Fletcher said:

        Hi Michael,
        I am a retired High School teacher. One does one’s utmost not to disparage one’s fellow educators – in other words, we stick together.
        But this time, I have to speak out. To say that one needs a Master’s degree in order to teach good pronunciation is silly; then to compound it by suggesting that Ph.Ds are needed to teach a foreign language is just pompous,arrant posturing.

        There… I feel better!

        Good luck in your venture.The kids will learn.

        • At May 17, 2010
          2:28:32 pm
          ellen sporn said:

          Sounds like you’re developing a plan. Where will the children come from? Ellen